The term “muckraker” has been used to describe reform-minded journalists since after 1900. This term became popular in 1906 when the President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, used it to insult journalists who, in his opinion, had gone too far to expose real or made-up misconduct of prominent individuals or businesses.
Today, people still argue about whether or not being called a “muckraker” should be considered an insult or an honor. Those who don’t agree with the way muckrakers gather their information describe these journalists as intrusive and rude, and that they do anything to get good information, even if that means lying (Wood).
Although some people believe that muckrakers go too far in exposing misconduct, I, along with many others, believe that muckrakers have had a positive effect on our society. Muckrakers have helped society by causing many new reforms and by encouraging people to act modestly and honestly.
Throughout history, muckrakers have been bringing up issues and finding information that has caused to reforms to be put in place to help society for the better. One example of a muckraker who has helped out society greatly is Upton Sinclair. In the 1900’s, Sinclair wrote a book called The Jungle, in which he aimed to “expose the shocking conditions that immigrant workers endured,” as stated by San Leandro High School. Sinclair exposed the terrible working conditions for immigrants, describing to everyone how dangerous and unsanitary the meat factories that they worked in could be. Even though Sinclair had exposed the meatpacking industry of its danger towards the customers as well as the workers (by explaining how badly the food would be treated), Sinclair had actually done society a favor. Sinclair’s exposition of the industry led to federal investigations and in 1906, the Meat Inspection Act was passed as a result. Without Sinclair’s book, people would have continued to eat the unsanitary meat, which would have caused even more illnesses from meat. Sinclair is described as a muckraker for exposing the meatpacking industry, but no one can argue that the result of his muckraking only helped society in the long run.
Another muckraker who has had a positive effect on society is Helen Hunt Jackson. After hearing from a Native American about how they were being mistreated by the government, Jackson decided to do something about it. In 1881, Jackson described the effects of government actions on Native American tribes in her book, A Century of Dishonor, which she sent copies of to Congress. In her book, Jackson explains the tribal history of several different tribes. Due to Jackson’s exposition of the government’s mistreatment towards the Native Americans, Congress acted to remedy the situation in Ponca, one of the Native American tribes being mistreated. The book did not make as big of an impact as Jackson had hoped for, she did cause a step in the right direction for better treatment of Native Americans. By displaying how the tribes were being treated, Jackson was able to help society.
A current example of muckrakers affecting society in a good way is Julian Assange creating WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks is a non-profit organization created to provide secret news, information, and leaks to the public. On the WikiLeaks website, it is explained that “better scrutiny leads to reduced corruption and stronger democracies in all society’s institutions, including government, corporations and other organizations.” I agree with this theory that muckraking can lead to a less corrupt government and society. Muckraking can eliminate dishonest officials from the government and also, if people know that their information is likely to be leaked, it would encourage more people to act in a moral way in the first place.
By exposing individuals and businesses, muckrakers play an important part in doing their best to eradicate corruption from society as a whole. Muckrakers should be honored to have that title because it shows that they have played a part in attempting to improve society.